Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart heads to Corsica buoyed by points in Sweden in both the Drivers' and Manufacturers' Championships, but is all too aware that competition on asphalt will be as tough as ever. Regular team drivers Francois...
Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart heads to Corsica buoyed by points in Sweden in both the Drivers' and Manufacturers' Championships, but is all too aware that competition on asphalt will be as tough as ever. Regular team drivers Francois Delecour/Daniel Grataloup and Alister McRae/David Senior will be back behind the wheel, both hoping to build on their ever-increasing knowledge of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution WRC in this, the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
The Rallye de France-Tour de Corse (7-10 March) is one of the classics on the 14-round calendar, the mountainous Mediterranean island providing a unique challenge as the tight and twisty bumpy asphalt roads snake a path through the rugged yet beautiful landscape. Significantly, the 46th running of this celebrated event has also changed date from Autumn to Spring, earlier in the season than ever before, not only providing a challenge for the organisers who will have staged two World Championship rallies in just over four months, but also the teams whose knowledge and experience is heavily based around historic information. Predicting the weather and making the right tyre choice will be vital for success, the likelihood of rain at this time of year coupled with the possibility of sunshine or even snow at higher altitudes adding to the already immense challenge of the Corsican roads. A precise driving style, knowledge of the narrow roads and their endless sequence of corners all conspire to make the Tour de Corse one of the most specialised events in the series where the combination of car performance, brakes, tyres, driver skill and fitness all play a huge part.
Few of the regular World Championship contenders have as much experience here as Francois Delecour, the 39-year-old having competed on Corsica no fewer than 12 times. The Frenchman, and former World Champion co-driver Daniel Grataloup, also spearheaded Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart's recent 700 kilometre test programme on the island, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience to the on-going development of the Lancer Evolution WRC.
"The handling of the car on the bumpier roads in Monte Carlo caused us a problem and we knew we had a lot of work to do for Corsica", said Francois, who has finished second on a number of occasions and took outright victory in 1993. "It's difficult to say how much progress we've made but I think we have made some steps forward with the suspension settings, but we'll have more to do with some new parts during our confirmation test just before the rally.
"With the event based around Ajaccio it could be sunny, but on the test we had some rain and temperatures between freezing and about 16 degrees. For me, I love Corsica, but the rally and in fact Tarmac events are not my favorites. I think we still have quite a bit of work to do, but the team is working hard and hopefully things will be good for the rally".
Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart chief engineer Bernard Lindauer added: "We have done a lot of work on the suspension, dampers, car balance and geometry, generally improving the car, but we still have some work to do yet. Francois has been a big help because of his experience on asphalt and we have a clear understanding of what we need to do. Some of that has been achieved during the test and the performance of the car has already improved as a result".
In contrast, team-mates Alister McRae and David Senior have limited experience having only contested the event three times previously. Encouraged by his first points this season however, the Scot will be looking to secure competitive times and a solid finish.
"Even though my experience is limited, you have to have a flat-out approach everywhere these days", said Alister. "Francois knows the roads very well, as do a lot of the other drivers, but I just need to drive as quickly as possible, obviously with a bit of caution thrown in. I actually quite enjoy Corsica, the roads are good, quite technical, but I don't know what this year will be like with it being held earlier - maybe the weather will play a bigger part. We've had a fair bit to do on the car since Monte Carlo, but hopefully we'll be far enough advanced to have a reasonable result. We will be better here, that's for sure, and if there's a chance of a point, that would be an extremely good result for me".
Adding to their comments, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart team manager Derek Dauncey said: "With the rally changing dates the tyre gamble is going to be much greater, especially in the first couple of stages each day when the temperatures will be even lower than normal. For every event we obviously have records of the conditions and temperatures, which tyres were chosen and what subsequently proved to be the best choice. When an event changes date like this, that historic information is not there, which has made our test with Francois earlier this month even more important. Francois knows Corsica extremely well and has brought those years of experience to the team, which has been an enormous benefit, but Alister is obviously still learning and will be approaching the event accordingly".
The three-day rally, based around the capital of Ajaccio, has a total length of 931.42 kilometres and is largely unchanged from last year with the entire rally paddock and service park based at Campo Dell'Oro. The first leg will be fought out east and south of Ajaccio and while it includes just five stages, they cover 129 kilometres, including the longest stage of the rally at 36 kilometres. The second leg starts with a repetition of that stage and then covers a further six to the northeast totalling 154 competitive kilometres. The final leg is the shortest and may only cover four stages but, at 111 competitive kilometres, it will not be an easy cruise to the finish for the FIA World Rally Championship contenders. The Rallye de France-Tour de Corse starts on Friday 8 March and will be fought out over 16 stages and 396.28 competitive kilometres before the finish on Sunday 10 March.